At the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the reticent Red Indian who’s simply called Chief throughout the film, finds his buddy McMurphy (played brilliantly by Jack Nicholson) turned into a vegetable after a forced lobotomy.
McMurphy, a free spirit defiant of the mental institution’s strict regulations, is ultimately defeated by the system and is punished for challenging the authority of icy Nurse Ratched.
When Chief sees his friend, a dissenter who gave hope to his peers, turned into a drooling zombie, he thinks it better to smother McMurphy with a pillow and breaks out from the institution in a symbolic exit (I didn’t give a *spoiler alert* because screw you for not watching such a great film already).
When I heard Aamir Khan’s latest remarks on demonetisation, I had a similar urge to reach out for a pillow and just put him out of his misery. That Aamir - ever the thinking man’s Khan - has finally been turned into a submissive patient by Nurse Modi is a thought that is too much to bear.
After all, this is the same Khan who questioned India’s conservative values in Satyamev Jayate and who came out and spoke against intolerance in India last year. It’s the same Khan who spoke in solidarity with the Narmada Bachao Andolan protesters and who has put out genre defying, sober movies such as Taare Zameen Par, Rang De Basanti, Peepli Live and PK.
He has always been the loudest and consistently sane voice in an industry forced to pay lip service and keep mum on important issues. What could be the reason for his support for a drive that brought much consternation and calamity on millions of Indians?
Oh right, his latest movie, Dangal, releases this Friday.
Speaking at a recent event for the film, Khan said: “I haven’t faced any problems due to demonetisation as I don’t have any black money at all. I pay taxes. Those who have black money will face problems. I make use of cards, be it debit or credit card, whenever we buy something.”
Perhaps someone should make Aamir McMurphy aware of the facts and the ground reality. While he has been gaining and losing weight to get into character, millions across India are only losing weight. More than a hundred people have died in events directly linked to demonetisation.
|Dangal releases this Friday.|
Every day there are reports of people fatally collapsing from fatigue or committing suicide due to not having access to their own money. Ministers and businessmen with ties to BJP are the only ones getting caught with crores in old and new currency while the common man is struggling to pay for his basic needs.
The poor have been stripped of their dignity while the rich, like Mr Khan whose net worth is estimated to be around Rs 1,200 crore, use their mobile-wallets and debit cards with nary a trouble.
It turns out that those with black money are not the ones facing problems. ATMs and banks don’t have cash for those without political or smartphone connections. Labourers can’t find labour, traders can’t trade and farmers can’t farm.
Economists predict an irrevocable damage to India’s economy. Meanwhile, the government is changing rules like a school kid getting beaten at his own game (“When I said 30th December I had my fingers crossed!” or “Vicky doesn’t have to declare his assets because we’re using his bat to play!”).
To be aware of all this and yet support the drive is ignorance at best and cowardice at worst.
To be sure, Khan did make passing reference to the "inconvenience" this is causing to the poor when he said, “I know common people are facing problem and I feel sad about it,” but he quickly moved off the uncomfortable territory by adding, “our Prime Minister has taken a good initiative and we must support him".
When asked if going cashless would help India, Aamir replied that “I am not an economist. If someone is doing some good work we should help them. I am into films… I can talk about that and not the economy”.
Aamir needs to realise that his gotta-crack-some-eggs-to-make-an-omelette reasoning comes across as extremely lily-livered in the present scenario.
Now, to be fair, everyone with half a brain knows that Khan has been forced to handle this rather diplomatically. After all, hell hath no fury like a bhakt scorned. Aamir’s last brush with the government and its supporters, over the intolerance issue, ended up costing him his endorsement deals with Snapdeal and India’s tourism department.
There were calls for boycott of his films (which still continue) and the all too familiar if-you-don’t-like-it-here-then-go-to-Pakistan suggestion. It’s as clear as day that by not criticising the government, Khan is attempting a Faustian bargain that could perhaps help him get back into the good books of BJP and its supporters. And that’s the sad part.
It’s sad because by reducing a sensible man like Aamir to reconsider his empathy (which he has proven to have in spades) and his innermost thoughts, the nail has finally been driven into the coffin of Bollywood’s conscience.
Almost unanimously, India’s largest exporter of culture has decided to be spineless. Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan have all come out in support of a monumentally ill-thought-out directive.
|SRK had to strike a deal with the MNS so that his upcoming film Raees could be released without hassles.|
Arshad Warsi and Shatrugan Sinha (a BJP minster no less) are the only exceptions who have had the guts to criticise demonetisation and they must be applauded for going against the grain. They are not economists either but have spoken about how the drive is unfair to the masses and is not implemented well.
Even before demonetisation, Karan Johar had to apologise - for the crime of using Pakistani actors - to a ninnyhammer like Raj Thackeray. Recently, SRK had to strike a deal with the same devil so that his upcoming film Raees can be released without hassles.
These men who beat villains in hammy dishoom-dishoom sequences or deliver pragmatic monologues in an attempt to hold a mirror to society, appear even more removed from reality when we refuse to allow them the sacrosanctity of their opinion.
By muzzling their freedom to express themselves, be it in film or real life, we turn them into mere puppets. We appear to tell our large-than-life stars: “Dance and entertain us little dancer but don’t you dare to have a thought of your own. Deliver your solemn dialogues and make us nod in agreement but keep in mind that it’s a different India outside your nautanki and make-believe. The kind of India that will set fire to your cinema halls and throw a brick into your office. The kind of India that will downvote your app and pat its own backs.”
So who can fault them for playing it safe? Like Pavlovian dogs, they have been trained by rabble-rousers to keep in line and not ruffle the feathers of the majority. In Hollywood, most celebrities are open with their opinions on key issues such as immigration, climate change, racism, government policies, gun violence and LGBT rights. Our celebrities, on the other hand, can’t even open their mouths. In order to have their career, they have to let go of their principles.
We have enough economists and academics and journalists who are critical of demonetisation but, for the common man, no one holds more currency than Bollywood stars as millions hang on their word. This is why they need to realise the power they hold over Modi bhakts and the MNS.
Even our film journalists need to stop acting like starstruck fans and ask some difficult questions every now and then. I don’t give a damn if SRK had fun shooting with Alia Bhatt in Goa, I want to know what he makes of the Kashmir situation.
I don’t give a damn if Huma Qureshi had fun partying at Cannes, I want to know what she makes of triple talaq. I don’t care what Akshay Kumar thinks of his wife’s new book, I want to know why he’s so silent on key issues.
And as for Ajay Devgn, I don’t give a rat’s ass what he makes of anything. I’m happy to let him keep chewing his Vimal pan masala as long as it keeps his mouth shut.